This was her last chance.
If she failed today, she would never see him again.
Lilayni Perrot stepped back into the ice panther’s shadow. It loomed over her, ready to pounce with water dripping from its colourless fangs like crystal blood. The big cat sculpture looked about as approachable as the man she hunted tonight.
She ran nervous hands over her slim dress. It reached mid-thigh, leaving her shapely legs open to notice. And its green colour—a darker emerald than her eyes—made her wavy red tresses glow as they flowed down her back almost to her waist. A light but artful touch of makeup to enhance her beauty, and she knew she stood out a mile in this crowd of the best-dressed people in New York.
She needed that. She needed to stand out tonight. She needed him to see her and not take his eyes off her.
He didn’t know she was here, and surprise was her only advantage. Now if she could just dig up the courage to approach him.
But she took another step back, moistening suddenly dry lips with the tip of her tongue.
People milled about in the hotel’s chandelier-lit grand hall. The men wore sharp evening suits, and the women dazzled in rainbow colours of designer wear—short sexy minis all the way to floor-sweeping ball gowns. Glasses clinked, and laughter rose among the flowing chatter. Manhattan’s big shots were out in force this mild September evening to back their favourite charities.
But business was happening too. Deals were being made and completed with the shake of a hand or a clap on the back. And he was there, in the middle of a group of business men who were standing off to one side of the hall and ignoring everyone else as they talked.
And like a star in its element, he outshone them all.
His six-foot-four frame placed him above most in the group. And his fitted dark suit couldn’t hide a formidable muscular build like that of a top rugby player. His black hair and beard were cropped close and neat, highlighting his striking features. But it was the way his light-copper eyes glowed against his dark skin, almost as if lit from within, that caught people’s attention and held it.
Nobody took just one look at Damon Solarin. And when that sinfully handsome face broke into an easy grin, you were lost forever.
“Champagne?” A young waiter popped up by her side, expertly balancing a tray of champagne flutes in one hand.
He was lanky and blond, probably not much older than her twenty-six years, and the smile he gave her was one of pure male appreciation rather than anything professional.
“Non, merci.” She winced a little at falling back into her mother tongue because of the distraction.
His smile widened to a grin. “French, huh? I’ve been to Paris, myself. You from there?”
Nice guy, but he must be new to his job, because from her experience the wait staff at these exclusive functions were supposed to be seen and not heard, and certainly not chatting up the guests. She glanced around to make sure they hadn’t come under the watchful eye of one of his managers. Better to end this swiftly and send him on his way before he lost his job. “I am from Nice. If you will excuse me?” She flashed him a friendly smile and made to move away.
“You… um… here with someone?”
“I…” She looked to where Damon stood oblivious and far from her. “I am.”
“Oh.” Disappointment dimmed his eyes as he followed her gaze to Damon. Then he frowned, and a knowing look dawned on his face. He looked her up and down. “I’ll wish you luck then,” he murmured and turned to leave.
Heat coursed up Lilayni’s cheeks. Maybe he wasn’t such a stranger to these parties after all, because it sounded very much like he’d pegged her as one of those women who made a career out of coming to these functions and targeting the billionaires in attendance. But wasn’t that exactly what she was doing? And wasn’t she more desperate than most? She’d woken up in France yesterday and crossed an ocean today to make it to this fundraiser, only because Damon would be here. But to know her desperation showed on her face to all and sundry made her squirm.
“Wait!” She stopped the waiter in his tracks. His only job here was to serve champagne and not pass judgement. He needed to remember that. And with haughty dignity she took a champagne flute from his tray. “Merci.” And she stalked away.
It didn’t matter what anyone else thought. It didn’t matter how they judged her. She’d come here for a reason, and hiding wouldn’t help. She had to go to Damon. She had to make him see her again.
The champagne flute cooled her fingers as she made her way to the centre of the hall, and she took a quick sip. She hadn’t planned on drinking anything tonight. She needed all her wits about her. Besides, the nervous butterflies crowding her stomach had made the thought of alcohol unbearable. But the chilled champagne had a surprisingly calming effect, and she took another sip.
Damon was still talking animatedly to several men in the group. Being half-turned away from her, he hadn’t seen her yet. He smiled at something the man opposite him said, cocked his head to the side and rubbed a hand over his dark beard as if considering. Then he nodded and spoke again, his hand gestures expressive as he said something that had his companions laughing in response.
Lilayni’s steps faltered. He wouldn’t extend that friendliness to her tonight. Damon was charming when he chose to be. And his fierce intellect saw people for exactly what they were. He could be more diplomatic than a diplomat. But cross him, and as she had learned to her cost, he gave no second chances.
In the month since their split he’d barely acknowledged she was alive. But she couldn’t forget him so easily. Her heart wouldn’t let her. She’d given it to him once, and it had never wanted to return since. Maybe today he would finally listen and forgive.
And on a deep breath she forced her feet forward, taking her closer to him…